Coronavirus: separated families need greater focus

“Families are bearing the brunt of this disruption on both a psychological and practical level, and more must be done to meet their needs”

As the Coronavirus crisis widens geographically, the immediate focus for the boarding school sector is to provide up to date health advice to help keep schools virus-free. However, as Pat Moores of UK Education Guide writes, alongside this issue there is a massive human story. 

As a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, young people are being separated from their families unexpectedly, uncertain when the situation will improve and concerned about their own welfare and the welfare of their families.

We have heard of one Chinese pupil who has donated £750 of her own money to help Wuhan residents, as many of her friends live in the Hubei region and she is very worried about them.

So what about enhanced pastoral care provision during this crisis?

As Caroline Nixon, General Secretary of the British Association of Independent Schools with International Students (BAISIS) says, “anything a school can do to reassure the child and to put into place arrangements that support them emotionally as well as physically is welcome; the most obvious being keeping the school open so that children without good guardians have somewhere familiar to stay.”

 We also asked the Association for the Education and Guardianship of International Students (AEGIS) to highlight schools their members feel are ‘going the extra mile’ to help reassure anxious families. Responses highlighted schools that are minimising disruption by staying open over the Easter break, reassuring families their children are in a safe, known environment with friends and familiar faces.

Moreton Hall, Abbotsholme, Stonar, Mount Kelly, Cardiff 6th Form College, Wellington College & Tudor Hall were mentioned as schools staying open for Easter. No doubt others are also stepping up to the challenge.

Alternative provisions include pupils staying with UK guardians during the holidays but there is limited capacity for guardians, geared up to offer homestays during shorter half-term breaks, to take pupils for longer holidays, such as Easter.

Also, whilst accurate information is regularly disseminated to AEGIS accredited guardians via BSA bulletins, there are over 23,000 overseas pupils in the UK not represented by an AEGIS guardian, so schools have an additional responsibility to regularly distribute this information direct to families and non-AEGIS accredited guardians.

“We have heard of one Chinese pupil who has donated £750 of her own money to help Wuhan residents”

One school was specifically commended by 3 Guardianships-Jane Eldridge, Director of Guardianship services at College Guardians, Marianna Slivnitskaya, Head of Guardianship at UKstudycentre.com and Richard Cullum from Quest Guardians.

“We have found one school to be exceptional in these circumstances, namely Bromsgrove School.

“They kept their boarding house open for February half-term and are now planning to do the same for Easter, but they also send reassuring messages that are very different from everyone else’s. They try to focus on how they deal with it and how students and their families feel, rather than on whose responsibility it is. The students there feel really supported”, says Marianna.

Rachel Scannell, Assistant Head at Bromsgrove provided more context: “Keeping a boarding house open over half term reassured our parents and pupils that we were taking the situation seriously. The 80 pupils who spent half term with us had a lovely holiday and many staff volunteered to supervise trips, activities or just be around for the week.

“With Easter in mind, our Headmaster continues to send out sensible and practical updates to all our parents and staff and I continue to be in regular communication with boarding parents, guardians and agents either as a whole body or individually by email or WeChat,” she adds.

Ruth Hughes, Director of Curious Human, is known for her work as a positive psychology/cultural transition speaker and coach. She points out that there are some particularly vulnerable students including those with existing difficulties such as anxiety or depression; those newly arrived in the country, perhaps still experiencing the challenges of culture shock; and those stressed about upcoming examinations.

She suggests using Martin Seligman’s evidenced positive psychology PERMAH framework:

P=Positive Emotions- the enjoyment of life. Planning meals/treats, trips out and fun activities can all help.

E=Engagement – absorbing/challenging activities, (music, dance, art and sport) are beneficial.

R=Relationships- online access connects students with loved ones. Quality time with those who care and listen to how they feel is vital. Potentially, feeling a burden and/or exposure to insensitive remarks increases students’ fear and vulnerability.

M=Meaning. Students should be informed about the coronavirus and the situation locally/globally. Highlighting facts regarding its mild trajectory for most sufferers is helpful.

A=Achievement. Working on/measuring improvement in studies, language etc. boosts achievement and helps students feel that time is not wasted.

H=Health and Exercise. Finally, eating well, sleeping well and keeping physically fit will all help improve the mental wellbeing of pupils.

This is a highly stressful time for pupils, families, guardianships and schools – all are struggling to understand rapidly changing advice provided by governments worldwide, but one thing is certain, families are bearing the brunt of this disruption on both a psychological and practical level and more must be done to meet their needs.

(Sincere thanks to all the AEGIS guardians that responded to requests for feedback at such short notice, those listed above plus-Connexcel, OPDSCambridge Guardian AngelsPippa’s GuardiansGuardians International,  White House guardiansStudents International)